Monday, November 14, 2011

Women’s Health: The Risk of Supplements

Who knew vitamins could be so scary?

For many Americans, popping a daily multivitamin feels as natural as tooth brushing or hand washing. Despite a lack of support by the FDA, we seem to view supplements as an easy way to fit in nutrients that we might not get through diet alone. Unfortunately, there is a darker side to this way of thinking.

According to a recent study conducted by nutritional epidemiologists at the University of Minnesota, a woman’s risk of death increases relative to her vitamin intake despite marketing claims to the contrary. This research suggests supplements work against their designated purpose and, in fact, do more harm than good.

The study, which took place over two decades, broke down the varying risks associated with different supplemental vitamins while adjusting for other lifestyle factors such as weight, smoking, blood pressure, diet, and exercise. The odds of death (in older women especially) increased regardless of these factors, which adds support for the researchers’ findings.

Copper, for example, was associated with a 45% increased risk of death while zinc only increased the risk by 8%. Iron was associated with a 10% greater risk and folic acid 15%. Perhaps it comes as a surprise then that calcium was the one supplement shown to have a positive effect on a woman’s lifespan.

This research suggests that otherwise healthy women would be wise to ditch the supplements and strive to eat a balanced diet that incorporates all the vitamins their bodies need, naturally.


Anonymous said...

Wish I'd known that years ago. Very helpful. Just threw out my bottle of multi's in the cabinet!

Anonymous said...

I had never thought supplements were worthwhile, but I did not realize that they were actually dangerous. Glad I saved my money all these years! Thanks for the new info.

Unknown said...

Excellent article! So glad to have the information we need to stay healthy. This is really good to know.

Anonymous said...

I don’t know how I feel about that kind of research study. Not because it isn’t worth reading and taking note of in the grand scheme of things, but because when it gets press everyone responds like the conclusions they drew are hard facts. But how can they control for the influence of lifestyle factors of these women earlier in their lives? They started an analysis of the benefit of supplements when they were at age 61!

Further, those risk ratios and absolute risk statistics can get confusing and misleading. The increased “odds of death” reported by the Time article and in your blog are not what they seem. The odds or hazard ratio is relative to the actual risk (which they named as 40%). Thus women in Iowa in this age group had a 40% risk of dying, overall (40 out of 100 women would have died). People hear 45% increase in risk from taking copper and they think their risk of death went up from 40% to 85%. But in fact their risk only went up by 45% of 40 (.45 x 40) or 18%... it went from 40% risk of dying to 58% risk of dying (58 in 100 women). Maybe Copper is a bad example because it was the highest value by far, and I don’t know why any women in this age group would be supplementing copper anyway. There are known issues with that. Copper is a pro-oxidant. Opposite of antioxidant… not good for longevity.

Anyway, just my two cents on this kind of research.

Anonymous said...

important information that sometimes less is more! thanks

Anonymous said...

Very interesting....I have heard so many mixed messages about taking multi vitamins. But your advise makes the most sense so no more vitamins for me!

Anonymous said...

interesting - it seems data can be manipulated to support whatever bias the researchers have. this article is great but I'm not sure if I agree with the way the study was conducted.

Anonymous said...

This was very interesting information; i have always wondered about the use of supplements if my diet was varied and healthy.